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Best of British: North Pennines, pic - Factory Media/Scott Connor

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The 13 highest roads to ride in the UK

What are the highest climbs, accessible by road bike, in Britain?

While Britain lacks the long, twisting mountain ascents found in the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites, there are still plenty of leg-numbing, must-ride climbs to be found on these shores.

Picture-perfect scenery, tough country roads and steep gradients means there’s plenty to enjoy – and plenty of suffering to be had when exploring by bike.

Best of British: North Pennines, pic - Factory Media/Scott Connor
The North Pennines contains some of Britain’s highest roads, offering spectacular vistas across the vast moorland

And if scaling the highest heights is your thing, you’ve come to the right place – we’ve rounded up Britain’s highest cycling climbs accessible by road bike.

So if you’re planning a cycling trip for 2017, or want somewhere new to explore on two wheels, here are the top 13 highest climbs in the UK.

13) Fleet Moss, Yorkshire Dales (589m/1932ft)

Yorkshire’s highest road is also one of the white rose county’s most iconic climbs, despite the Tour de France missing out Fleet Moss when cycling’s greatest race was in town in 2014.

Where cycling’s elite wouldn’t go up, however, plenty of others have – and the long, exposed climb with an unrelenting average gradient of 8.4 per cent is a staple of any cycling trip to the Dales.

Fleet Moss, pic - Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons
Fleet Moss is the highest road in England outside of the North Pennines (Pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Peaking at 589m (1932ft), the climb is also England’s highest cycling climb outside of the North Pennines.

– RCUK’s Best of British: the Yorkshire Dales, featuring Fleet Moss –

Fancy taking it on? Check out our Best of British feature from the Yorkshire Dales for a stunning but tough 87-mile route, also incorporating Buttertubs Pass (which the Tour did go up).

12) Yad Moss, North Pennines (598m/1962ft)

Situated between the heads of the South Tyne, Tees and Wear rivers, Burnhope Seat is the highest point in historic County Durham, and Yad Moss passes within two kilometres of the summit.

Yad Moss, pic - lizsmith, via Flickr Creative Commons
Yad Moss is the highest B-road in Britain (Pic: lizsmith, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Reaching a maximum height of 598m/1962ft, the B6277 is the highest B-road in Britain and is set against the backdrop of the heather grouse moorland.

– Ten of the UK’s steepest climbs to ride –

A ski station at the top gives a clue as to the typical northern climate on Burnhope Seat, and the climb itself is long – 15.4km of wide, exposed tarmac, with a moderate average gradient of two per cent. That hides the true story, though – this is a heavily undulating climb, so expect sections which are significantly steeper.

11) Dowgang Hush, North Pennines (599m/1965ft)

Cumbria’s Dowgang Hush is a climb well known to coast-to-coast riders – a short, sharp ascent regarded as the steepest road on the route.

Dowgang Hush, pic - Mike Quinn, via Flickr Creative Commons
Dowgang Hush is well known to coast-to-coast riders and is regarded as one of the toughest climbs on the route (Pic: Mike Quinn, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The 1.4km ascent has an average gradient of 11 per cent, but its steepest section, which features early in the climb, has a ramp of one-in-four gradient – and the wind regularly whips up, too.

As far as scenery goes, however, the thigh-numbing pitches are well worth the effort as you climb to a shade under 600m in the shadow of the coniferous woodland, which looks over a deep ravine.

10) Great Southern Drove Road, North Pennines (607m/1991ft)

The road from Newbiggin towards Westgate is a quiet, singletrack road right across the top of the North Pennine moorland.

Built for drovers to take the wildstock down from Westgate in Weardale to Newbiggin in Teesdale, the climb takes you to a maximum elevation of 607m – making it one of only ten British roads higher than 600m.

Great Southern Drove Road, pic - Oliver Dixon, via Creative Commons
The narrow, exposed Great Southern Drove Road connects Teesdale and Weardale (pic – Oliver Dixon, via Creative Commons)

Again, you can expect wide open roads fully exposed to the elements, but on a clear day you can see for miles around. Prepare for a stern test, with the 5.7km climb averaging six per cent.

It’s no wonder they call this the Roof of England.

9) Black Hill, North Pennines (609m/1998ft)

The problem with a name like Black Hill is there are plenty of hills sharing that name, but the North Pennine ascent – another feature of the Coast-to-Coast ride – is the highest of the lot.

Black Hill, pic - Richard Leeming, via Flickr Creative Commons
Black Hill is the highest point on the coast-to-coast ride and again features wide-open moorland (Pic: Richard Leeming, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Coming up just short of 2,000ft, the hill is the highest point of the C2C ride, and takes you up to the Cumbria/Northumberland border.

The climb measures 2.2km in length with an average gradient of eight per cent. Again, it’s another very exposed climb, but if you’re looking for the highest roads in the country what else would you expect?

8) Cairngorm ski centre, Aviemore, Scotland (610m/2001ft)

There are eight road bike-friendly roads in Britain at more than 2,000ft, and five of them are north of the border in Scotland – with the Cairngorm mountains home to three of those.

First up is Cairngorm Road to the Cairngorm ski centre, which just ticks over the mark to 2000ft.

Cairngorm Ski Centre, pic - Steven Brown, via Creative Commons
The road to the Cairngorm Ski Centre is lined by fir trees in parts but is wide open in others – at this altitude and latitude, weather conditions are tough for much of the year (Pic: Steven Brown, via Creative Commons)

The climb averages six per cent, with some early tough pitches above ten per cent on the fir tree-lined road before your reach a car park in the middle.

The road levels out there, giving you some respite, but pitches up in steps onto the vast moorland before peaking at the ski centre’s car park.

7) Bealach Na Ba, Applecross, Scotland (626m/2054ft)

Does Bealach Na Ba need any more introduction? The twisting Applecross climb has become a mythical ascent and a bucket list staple. In fact, we named it as one of the best – and steepest – climbs in the UK.

There are a handful of higher climbs in Britain but only two – the top two in this list – offer more altitude gain over the length of the climb, with Bealach Na Ba rising up from valley floor at sea level.

Bealach na Ba, pic - English Pointers, via Flickr Creative Commons
Bealach na Ba snakes up the mountainside from sea level and is revered as one of Britain’s best climbs (Pic: English Pointers, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The twisting, hairpin-laded road snakes up the rugged mountainside, with a maximum gradient of one-in-five. This climb is long, tough and very, very tough.

– Ten MORE of the UK’s steepest climbs to ride –

Some 9.1km in length, the average gradient is seven per cent with the summit at 626m above sea level – it’s arguably the closest to an Alpine climb you’ll find on British soil.

=5) Killhope Cross, North Pennines (627m/2057ft)

Sharing the title of highest pass in England (there is still one higher out-and-back road) is Killhope Cross in the North Pennines.

The pass divides Weardale and Cumbria and at 2,057ft in elevation the road over the top – the A689 – is England’s highest A-road (and therefore the highest classified road in the country).

Killhope Cross, pic - Andrew Smith, via Creative Commons
Killhope Cross is the highest A-road in England (A689) (Pic: Andrew Smith, via Creative Commons)

The climb itself – as with all of its high neighbouring ascents – features wide-open moorland, lined by snow poles (giving an indication of just how high you are) and several false flats make it hard to find a climbing rhythm.

At its steepest, the gradient touches 20 per cent but the average is nearer seven per cent with Killhope Burn running almost parallel as you approach the summit.

=5 – Harthope Moss, North Pennines (627m/2057ft)

Situated on the other side of Burnhope Seat, some ten miles to the south, Harthope Moss is – like Killhope Cross – 627m at its highest.

Best of British: North Pennines, pic - Factory Media/Scott Connor
Harthope Moss shares the title of joint-highest road pass in England

Also known as Chapel Fell, high winds can make the four kilometre ascent a daunting prospect, and that’s before you consider the eight per cent gradient.

The maximum gradient is double that, but as ever your reward is a stunning panoramic view across the Pennine hills once you’re at the top.

4) The Lecht, Aviemore, Scotland (635m/2083ft)

Another thigh-burning Scottish climb, The Lecht can be a daunting climb as it looms large above you, taking the direct path up the mountainside to the ski centre of the same name.

It’s 635m up at the summit, and in Scotland that means only one thing – snow. In fact, if you have any intention of climbing the Lecht outside of summer, you could be disappointed – it closes in snow and, well, it snows a lot. This one is for late spring to early autumn only.

The Lecht is a stunning Scottish ascent to the ski station of the same name (pic: Dolk, via Flickr Creative Commons)
The Lecht is a stunning Scottish ascent to the ski station of the same name (Pic: Dolk, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The climb has an average gradient of eight per cent and a maximum pitch of one-in-five which kicks up right at the start; its true difficulty lies in the pattern of false flats and brutal slopes – rhythm is impossible.

Once at the ski station, however, the scenery is stunning and reward after three kilometres of constant climbing.

3) Cairnwell Pass, Aviemore, Scotland (670m/2198ft)

At an elevation of 670m/2198ft, the Cairnwell Pass in Cairngorm is the highest A-road in Britain (it’s the A93, if you were wondering) and the highest pas, too.

Leading past Glenshee Ski Resort, the eight kilometre climb ramps up massively in the final three kilometres where there are plenty of section well into double digits.

Cairnwell Pass, pic- Neil Williamson, via Flickr Creative Commons
The dramatic Cairnwell Pass is the highest road pass in Britain (Pic: Neil Williamson, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Despite being an A-road, traffic is sparse, while Cairnwell mountain bears down over the road, with dramatic mountain-top scenery on all sides.

Any cyclists taking on the climb can take the steep, Devil’s Elbow double hairpin to really test their mettle – the A93 bypasses the one-in-six gradient section nowadays, though it was previously part of the main road.

2) Lowther Hill, Scotland (725m/2379ft)

Cairnwell Pass is the highest classified road and highest pass in Britain – but Scotland does boast an even higher climb at Lowther Hill.

The full climb of the Mennock Pass, located in Dumfries and Galloway, takes in Scotland’s highest village – Wanlockhead, at 467m up – but the climbing continues long afterwards.

Lowther Hill, pic -Andrew Bowden, via Flickr Creative Commons
Lowther Hill is a radar station in Dumfries and Galloway, with a private access road accessible to cyclists but not motor vehicles (Pic: Andrew Bowden, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The road to the Lowther Hill radar station is restricted access, but cyclists are free to continue to the summit, at 725m above sea level.

As with the Mennock Pass itself, the climb gets tougher as the summit approaches, with the ‘golf ball’ radar station pulling you in as you tackle the switchbacks nudging one-in-five in gradient.

Of course, once at the top – and after enjoying the views over the rolling green hills below – the only way back is down the way you came. Buckle up for a white-knuckle descent.

1 – Great Dun Fell, North Pennines (835m/2740ft)

Like Lowther Hill in Scotland, Great Dun Fell is another restricted access road to a radar station and arguably better known than its Scottish counterpart.

Great Dun Fell, pic - Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons
Great Dun Fell is England’s Mont Ventoux (pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

That’s thanks in no small part to the fact the road is comfortably the highest in Britain, with the road at 835m/2782ft (the radar station is another 13m above sea level).

Again, cyclists (and walkers and horseriders) are allowed to use the road, while public motor vehicles can’t pass much higher than the village of Knock.

Best of British: North Pennines, pic - Factory Media/Scott Connor
Great Dun Fell climbs for 7.4km at an average gradient of eight per cent (Pic: Factory Media/Scott Connor)

Looming large over the village of Knock, the climb is peerless on these shores and has been dubbed the Ventoux of the North Pennines thanks to its barren landscape and the radar station at the top.

At 7.4 kilometres long, with an average gradient of eight per cent and a maximum pitch almost double that, the climb is as tough as they come in Britain, with an ever-changing gradient adding to the difficulty.

– RCUK’s Best of British: North Pennines, featuring Harthope Moss, Killhope Cross & Great Dun Fell –

Again, of course, it’s an out-and-back climb but you’ll want to savour the view from the top. You will have earned it. It’s little surprise Great Dun Fell was one of our Best of British rides, on an 88-mile route which also took in the ascents of Harthope Moss and Killhope Cross.

And what about the rest of the UK? If Lowther Hill is Scotland’s giant and Great Dun Fell England’s and Britain’s highest ascent, what about Wales and Northern Ireland?

Highest road in Wales – Gospel Pass (549m/1801ft)

Wales has a number of passes at more than 500m above sea level, but Gospel Pass in the Black Mountains is the highest of the lot.

Depending on who you believe, the name either derives from St Paul having been brought over the pass to preach by the daughter of Caradog, or the Crusaders preaching and fundraising in the 12th Century.

Gospel Pass, pic - steve_l, via Flickr Creative Commons
Gospel Pass in the Brecon Beacons is Wales’ highest road (Pic: steve_l, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Either way, located in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the road offers great views of the surrounding Welsh Hills, including Hay Bluff, and forms part of the National Cycle Network.

The full eight kilometre climb boasts an average gradient of five per cent but starts much steeper and is an undulating ascent until you pass the cattle grid, where it becomes much steadier all the way to the summit.

Highest road in Northern Ireland – Spelga Dam, Mourne Mountains (405m/1198ft)

Spelga Dam was built to supply Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast, with water and is a popular spot for those taking on the coast road south of Belfast.

Expect dry stone walls, wide open countryside and a serene lake at the top, with plenty of routes to explore to/from Spelga.

Spelga Dam, pic - Michal K, via Flickr Creative Commons
The tranquil Spelga Dam lies alongside Northern Ireland’s highest road (Pic: Michal K, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The climb is relatively gentle and befitting of its tranquil surroundings, which seem a world apart from city life up the coast.

The gradient rarely waivers from its six per cent average for the full length of the 5km climb and while it’s not as high as some of the roads you’ll find the other side of the Irish Sea, the vistas are picture-perfect.

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